Long Beach Lunch: Shillelagh
If O'Connells on Fourth Street is the drunken surly grandfather of Long Beach's dive bars, then its attached restaurant Shillelagh is the sweet little grandmother of neighborhood cafés. Because as much as locals haunt O'Connells by night for its shuffleboard-and-Jameson vibes, they seem to frequent Shillelaghs by day for the exact opposite--fresh comfort food, iced tea in mason jars and a cozy patio that fosters intimate conversations.
Most people have their first taste of Shillelagh's while day-drinking at the much larger O'Connell's and the first revelation is usually, "Wait, this dive bar has a kitchen that serves soyrizo?"
The second revelation is that the kitchen is embedded inside of what looks like a small-town coffeeshop, accessible through a doorway in the pool table room, and that the staff within is infinitely less gruff than those tending bar next door.
A vintage wall piano, donated decor and a forest's worth of indoor plants make Shillelagh's front dining room look like a condensed Gypsy Den, but the real gem here is the back patio, built out into the parking lot and surrounded by a tall privacy fence that encapsulates a serene urban escape perfect for shaded summer lunchtime lounging.
Though it's technically an Irish-named restaurant next to an Irish bar, there are no bangers and mash or greasy spoon plates at Shillelagh. Breakfasts can be a cilantro-pesto egg quesadilla with Portuguese sausage, turkey bacon and eggs, or a savory waffle topped with fresh fruit. And lunch options run the gamut from a thinly cut tri-tip sandwich to a Rosarito pizza with refried beans and chicken.
Everyone raves about the extensive breakfast men, but when dining with others, it's always appropriate to start with an order of the Irish nachos, which thankfully replaces the traditional bacon overload with flavorful (and healthier!) veggie bacon bits. Served in a large cast-iron skillet with noticeably less gobs of goodies than other Irish nachos around, Shillelagh's mound of elevated cheese fries further bucks the trend by coming with a side of house-made salsa that is as sweet and smokey as the addictive dark stuff at Baja Fresh.
Another anomaly on Shillelagh's eclectic menu is the BLT pizza; at only $7.95, it's a standard cheese pizza (made of hand-rolled thin-crust dough) topped with a mix of more veggie baco-bits, romaine lettuce and juicy tomatoes, seemingly from the invisible garden next door. Tossed in a light ranch dressing--and with the extras served in a bowl on the side for forking--the BLT pizza combines the vice of pizza with the healthiness of a salad for a mindfuck almost as weird as the fact that you can still technically order a $4 Jameson and ginger from next door while you're gorging on fake bacon.
O'Connell's might be the darkened spot to go to suck back some of grandpa's cough medicine, but when the sun is out and the tummy is grumbling, there's nothing like the comfort of relaxing in grandma's kitchen.
Shillelagh, 2724 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 916-3288
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